Israel’s SpaceIL Books Moon Flight on SpaceX Falcon 9



On October 3rd, Google Lunar XPrize competitor Moon Express announced that it had signed a launch agreement with Rocket Lab for at least two 2017 launches aboard that company’s Electron launch vehicle. The notice was remarkable for several reasons, not the least of which being it appeared to cement Moon Express as being the first company to officially book a launch to compete for the prize.

Somewhat strangely, in the days following the notice, which came in the form of an XPrize blog post by ME CEO Bob Richards, no official confirmation of the contract came out of the Google Lunar XPrize organization, leading to some speculation that the announcement was premature. Whatever the reason, the delay in confirmation apparently opened the window for another team, Israel’s SpaceIL, to become the first to produce a verified contract.

The SpaceIL launch will take place aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9, and was booked by Spaceflight Industries on what appears to be the same mass booked, late 2017  flight Innerspace reported last week. SpaceIL is taking a somewhat different approach to the concept than several other high profile teams. Its efforts are focused on building a dishwasher sized “hopper” which would touch down on the lunar surface, take the required high resolution photos, and then take off again using its remaining fuel to travel the 500 meters required to win the prize.

The complete press release is below:

Press Release Google Lunar X-Prize

SpaceIL Becomes First Google Lunar XPRIZE Team to Produce a Verified Launch Contract for a 2017 Mission, Using a SpaceX Falcon 9 Launcher via Spaceflight Industries

JERUSALEM, Israel (October 7, 2015)  – At a press conference held in Jerusalem today, alongside Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, and Bob Weiss, vice chairman and president of XPRIZE, SpaceIL announced a significant milestone in its race to the moon: securing a “ticket to the moon” on a SpaceX Falcon 9 launcher, with a mission scheduled for the second half of 2017. With this, SpaceIL becomes the first team to produce a verified launch contract in the US$30 million Google Lunar XPRIZE competition, and aims to accomplish not only the first Israeli mission to the moon, but also the world’s first private lunar mission.

“We are proud to officially confirm receipt and verification of SpaceIL’s launch contract, positioning them as the first and only Google Lunar XPRIZE team to demonstrate this important achievement, thus far,” said Bob Weiss, vice chairman and president of XPRIZE. “The magnitude of this achievement cannot be overstated, representing an unprecedented and monumental commitment for a privately-funded organization, and kicks off an exciting phase of the competition in which the other 15 teams now have until the end of 2016 to produce their own verified launch contracts. It gives all of us at XPRIZE and Google the great pride to say, ‘the new space race is on!’”

To win the Google Lunar XPRIZE, a privately funded team must successfully place an unmanned spacecraft on the moon’s surface that explores at least 500 meters and transmits high-definition video and images back to Earth, before the mission deadline of December 31, 2017.

“Only three countries have ‘soft-landed’ a rover on the surface of the moon: the United States, the former Soviet Union, and China. Now the notion of the small state of Israel being added to this exclusive list look more promising than ever,” said SpaceIL CEO Eran Privman. “ Last year we made significant strides toward landing on the moon, both in terms of project financing and in terms of the engineering design and now, we are thrilled to finally secure our launch agreement.  This takes us one huge step closer to realize our vision of recreating an ‘Apollo effect’ in Israel: to inspire a new generation to pursue Science, Engineering, Technology, and Math (STEM).”

Signing the launch agreement was made possible due to the completion of an additional fundraising round led by the two major contributors of SpaceIL:  Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson Family Foundation and Morris Kahn’s Kahn Foundation.

SpaceIL has purchased launch services from Spaceflight Industries; an American space company who recently purchased a SpaceX Falcon 9 launcher and will manifest SpaceIL’s spacecraft as a co-lead spot, which will sit in a designated capsule inside the launcher, among a cluster of secondary payloads. Once the capsule separates from the launcher, it will automatically release the spacecraft, which will use advanced navigation sensors to guide it to the lunar surface, with engineers in a mission control room standing by to remotely send commands and corrections as needed.

“We’re excited to work closely with the SpaceIL team to help them realize their mission of getting to the moon”, said Curt Blake, president of Spaceflight’s launch business. “It’s very gratifying to play an integral part in SpaceIL’s quest to win the Google Lunar XPRIZE.”

Also today, SpaceIL unveiled a new and improved design of its spacecraft, completed by SpaceIL engineers with consultation from world-renowned Israeli industrial designer, Alex Padwa, regarding the spacecraft’s exterior.  The first physical components of the new model are already starting to arrive at the SpaceIL integration lab.

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1 Comment on "Israel’s SpaceIL Books Moon Flight on SpaceX Falcon 9"

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  1. Stewart, there is no mystery here. Moon Express announced its launch contract with Rocket Lab on October 1st, 2015, independent from anything to do with XPRIZE verification process… we are an independent commercial space company with many customers who are very important to us, all with different requirements, XPRIZE/Google among them. We chose to announce our multi-mission launch contract as soon as it was signed… the act of XPRIZE “verifying” our contract is a process only impacting our involvement in the Google Lunar XPRIZE competition. That will come soon, but it was not a gating process for us. SpaceIL on the other hand, chose to announce their launch contract in conjunction with XPRIZE verification. SpaceIL was formed in response to the GLXP challenge and has a singular goal of winning it with no follow on plans. In contrast, while applauding and intending to win the GLXP, the Moon Express heritage predates the GLXP, is not dependent on it, and our business plans are to create a commercial lunar transportation and resources company. Winning the GLXP would be great, but it’s icing on the lunar cake for our company. We hope this helps explain the apparent mystery of the launch announcements.

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